Why do ear infections occur?

Otitis media, commonly called an “ear infection” is inflammation of the middle ear (behind the eardrum). When infection occurs this is called “acute otitis media”. Acute otitis media occurs when a cold or allergy causes swelling of the eustachian tube and allows the surrounding bacteria or virus to accumulate mucous and pus which cannot drain. This causes pain and sometimes drainage from the ear.

What is swimmers ear?

Otitis externa, commonly called swimmers ear is inflammation or infection of the outer ear. The outer ear is the ear canal which starts at the outside and extends to the eardrum. This condition is usually quite painful particularly to movement or touch of the outside of the ear. Things that cause or worsening swimmers ear include contact with dirty or polluted water (where the name comes from), ear cleaning including with cotton swabs (Qtips®), any type of damage to the ear canal skin as well as eczema and chronic dermatitis.

Do I have hearing loss?

Hearing loss is the 3rd most common physical condition after arthritis and heart disease which affects 20 percent of Americans and one out of three people over 65. Mild hearing loss may easily go undetected. Take the following quiz to see if you have hearing loss:

0-5 points – You probably do not have a significant hearing loss

6-9 points – Suggest seeing an ear, nose and throat specialist

10+ points – Strongly recommend seeing and ear nose and throat specialist

Hearing Loss Questionnaire

For information regarding our hearing aid options click here

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus, which affects up to 50 million Americans is the perception of sound without and external sound being present. The sound can come in many different forms including low or high pitches, ringing, roaring, buzzing etc. Tinnitus itself is not a disease but a symptom typically of other things going on with the ear, most frequently hearing loss. For some people it can be very bothersome and affect their sleep, concentration and overall quality of life. Most commonly no direct cause is found however this is often related to hearing loss. As hearing levels worsen, tinnitus frequently becomes more noticeable.

Although most tinnitus is bothersome but not dangerous, there a few symptoms which can potentially be a sign of a more serious cause. These include a pulsatile sound (the sound goes with your heartbeat), unilaterally (only on one side), or associated with other neurologic conditions. If one of these is present you should see an ear specialist to determine what type of testing is necessary.

What is earwax and how do I do to get rid of it?

Cerumen (se-roo-men) or earwax is nature’s way of protecting the ear canal. It is not really wax but a mixture of water and oil soluble body secretions, skin and hair debris which sheds in a similar way to the skin on the rest of the body. Earwax is only formed in the outer part of the ear canal and for most people naturally works its way out of the ear.

Most people do not need to actively have earwax removed. In fact, removal often causes more harm than good depending on how it is removed. Cotton swabs (Qtips®). Since earwax has natural antibacterial properties and acts as a lubricant for the ear canal, aggressive removal can remove this barrier and make small cracks that itch and can become infected. Also since Qtips® are about the size of an ear canal they often push cerumen deeper into the ear canal where the body is less likely to be able to remove it on its own, known as cerumen impaction. This can block up the ear canal and cause discomfort, pain, hearing loss or a pressure sensation in the ear.

If your ears have a tendency to not clean themselves, the best at home treatment usually involves drops which soften earwax and allow it to come out gently. Carbamide peroxide (Debrox®) is available over the counter. Additionally mineral oil, baby oil or pure olive oil can act to soften earwax and allow it to work its way out on its own. Hydrogen peroxide can work well if there is no hole in the eardrum. If this is still a problem you should seek the care of a medical professional to make sure your symptoms are indeed due to cerumen buildup and removal if needed.

What is the cause of my ear pain?

The nerve supply to the ear is very complex. Some causes of ear pain are due to ear infections. Ear pain can also be from referred pain a condition where nerve pain signals from different parts of the body are sent to the same neural pathways and can confuse the brain as to where the pain is actually coming from. Common sources of ear pain that are not directly from the ear include the throat, jaw joint (TMJ) and chewing muscles. An otolaryngologist (ENT) is trained to identify many causes of ear pain which are often misdiagnosed as ear infections.

What is a cholesteatoma?

Some people with chronic ear disease due to a poorly functioning Eustachian tube develop negative pressure in the middle ear. This pulls with weakest part of the eardrum back into the middle ear. In severe cases this can become a deep pocket and because the outside layer of the eardrum has thin layer of cells like skin (epithelium) this continues to shed. This accumulation of epithelium can then become trapped and infected. Eventually if untreated this infected area can make enzymes which dissolve the hearing bones and part of the balance system.

Cholesteatoma can also develop in some people with a long-standing tympanic membrane perforation (hole in the ear drum) which has not been repaired. Your doctor will be able to identify a cholesteatoma and discuss treatment options which typically consists of outpatient surgery.

Are there other hearing aid options if I have frequent ear infections with drainage?

Certain hearing situations make it difficult to wear a traditional hearing aid. If you have a chronically draining ear, extensive past ear surgery, a completely deaf ear and a relatively normal hearing ear, a bone anchored hearing device may be right for you. Central Coast Otolaryngology is now offering this advanced technology which consists of a short outpatient surgery. Best of all most insurances cover this type of a hearing device and eligible candidates are able to try a demo so see if this is a good option for them. Ask your doctor if this may be right for you.

Do I need to fix the hole in my eardrum?

A hole in the eardrum known as a tympanic membrane perforation can be caused by a number of things including acute ear infections, trauma, or after ear tubes fall out. For some people who need ear tubes for many years due to excess fluid or infection a small hole may function like an ear tube and be beneficial. However most perforations cause at least some degree of hearing loss and allow dirty water to infect the middle ear. Your doctor will determine if a tympanoplasty (a small surgery to fix the ear drum) is right for you.